Rethinking Magical Polarity
“Opposites attract.”“Like attracts like.”“As above; so below.”
In most Wiccan traditions of modern witchcraft there is a strong emphasis on sexual polarity as a model for magical/ritual working. Simply stated, this is the belief that magical energy is generated most strongly (and perhaps only) by a male and female working partnership, a concept that was popularized by the Gardnerian tradition and has been passed down in some form to the vast majority of modern witchcraft traditions being practiced today. Even in traditions where this polarity is seen to be internalized (i.e. the idea that we each contain an inner male and female which strive for balance regardless of our physical gender) we find that, ultimately, the model we have adopted is still a heterosexist one: that of polarized or complimentary forces being identified as male and female, thereby enshrining this model as the template for all real relationships whether they be romantic, magical, or otherwise. For Queers this can be a dangerous practice.
When I use the term “Queer” it is an attempt to reach poetically (and therefore magically) into the realm of “the Other”, the walker between the worlds, the dancer at the gate of twilight. Being Queer is a vitally important aspect of who I am; of how I relate to the Universe. It is much more than sharing my bed with another man. It colors my perception, focusing my awareness in a way that is different from that of the mainstream.
My own experience has shown me that as a gay man I exist outside the parameters of “normal” society, and because of this provide a necessary function for society at large. Like all ways into Power this is a double-edged sword, a blessing and a curse. Because gender roles are imprinted on each of us from even the very beginnings of our lives, and because my natural inclination was unlike the stereotypical masculine role that was expected of me, I began to experiment with other modes of being. After having been wrapped up in a “cocoon” of self-denial and protective obscurity I had emerged transformed from my closet as a being of power; my perspective, being proudly different, became my source of strength, a formidable ally. I had learned a simple truth: that I was fine just the way I was. I wasn’t defectively “in between” maleness and femaleness (a common misunderstanding of the Queer experience in general), but instead I represented something “Other” that could at times encompass traits usually described as masculine or feminine, but also had qualities that were beyond the normal limits of both. By standing outside, not only was I better able to see the limitations of the mainstream perspective, but I also allowed the mainstream itself to better know who it was and where it stood. By simply being what it isn’t, Queer people are able to reflect the mainstream back to itself, providing a reference point for it to better understand its place in the Universe. This power is not found in spite of who we are, but because of who we are. Whether this manifests as artistic expression, shamanic power, sexual adventurism (or even a beautifully decorated home!) we find commonalties in experience.
Although I have heard from others on numerous occasions who are unable to reconcile either their own Queer-ness or that of others with the overt sexual fertility of modern Paganism, being gay in the Craft has never been an issue for me. I realize that some still believe that Witchcraft can only be performed with the male/female magical current, but that only reflects their own relationship to the Source. There are many pathways to power; many models of spirit. Heterosexuality can be one, the male/female polarity spins into effect causing the birth of new life. Homosexuality is another, we borderline the ecstatic, bringing art and ideas into being.
It is my understanding that what we call “sexual orientation” represents an energetic vibration that manifests in the physical realm as sexual preference. Every quality that we possess, everything that we are is the vibration of our soul(s), whether it is sexuality, artistic talent, or athletic prowess. When we put it all together I imagine it to be rather like a song, the melody and rhythm being the orchestration of who we are on a soul level. Part of Witchcraft for me has been getting to know this song, and singing it with power.
The “Sacred Hermaphrodite”, the conjoining of the male/female principal is sometimes invoked as the spiritual force that embodies the Queer experience. It is inaccurate to believe, however, that this is what being gay is: a place in between male and female. It can be that, at times, but it is not only that. The Yin/Yang model doesn’t accurately describe the Universe in its entirety, just as the God/Goddess model fails to do the same. These are maps and metaphors that we have set into place in an attempt to have a relationship to the cosmos at large, but we should understand that these models themselves can not completely define the Universe. No model ever could. “Whatever you may say something is, it is not! … the map is not the territory … the word is not the thing.” (Alfred Korzybski)
This isn’t meant to imply that the Gods are merely psychological constructs or feel good stories. The Gods are real, but we should understand that they are not bound by physical limitations, and being non-human in origin are much more “fluid” in their existence. Gods can appear female and Goddesses male, just as they appear as a deer, or a stone, or a thunderstorm.
As an alternative to viewing polarity in heterosexist terms, we should feel empowered to adopt additional models as pathways into magical perspectives at large. This not only enables Queer practitioners with an energetic map that could potentially speak directly to our own experience, but also provides everyone, regardless of gender identity, with a deepened understanding of magic, polarity, and ourselves.
There are numerous symbols that we can draw upon to this end. For example, the turning of the seasons could be mythically expressed in the concept of the Oak King and the Holly King (or the Bright Mother and Dark Mother) representing the light and dark halves of the year, together becoming the cycle of eternity. In this example, polarity is seen in same gendered terms, but still retains the essential quality of complimentary forces.
We can also turn our attention to non-gender specific examples of polarity, such as Rhythm and Melody. This could be seen as bass drum and flute, each representing different powers, but coming together to provide the whole picture, in this example a musical one. This brings to light the idea that polarities are not pairs of energies in opposition to one another, but are instead complimentary forces in every meaning of the term. With this in mind, we might also see polarities in motion and stillness, form and formlessness, holding and releasing, feeling and knowing. As our understanding of energy increases, so does our ability to experience it, and to comprehend.
But why should we limit ourselves to just two forces? Our understanding of physics has demonstrated four fundamental forces at play in the universe: strong force, gravity, electromagnetism, and weak force. These last two have already been demonstrated as being part of the same force and in fact it is the unification of all of these forces into a singular unified field theory, which is the Holy Grail of modern physics. In the realm of the mythic this is the quest for the Star Goddess, the primary source of creation, that from which all things are born. The magical model of polarity most closely resembles at first glance that of electromagnetism; most notably in its observation that negatively and positively charged forces interact to form a current. But it is possible to look beyond the dualistic power, real and strong as it undoubtedly is, and see its place amongst others of equal importance. Many valuable insights can be derived from examining the interactions between not only two, but several forces at once. The power of the three souls in harmony, or the interplay between the four (and five) elements are but two examples that we as Witches should be familiar with. By experimenting with different models we can begin to delve into the unknown and bring back power from the abyss.
Polarities aside, there are other models that we may adopt in order to understand our unique power. One alternative is the concept of resonance, the idea of like powers calling to each other. In a Queer relationship we can see this as two (or more) souls of like gender/vibration singing together creating a harmony. We might imagine a duet and the special quality of singing voices merging together. In psychological terms this is the concept of identification; we see ourselves in our partner, or perhaps those qualities in ourselves that we wish to accentuate. This can be a powerful tool in terms of a magical practice when applied to the relationships we share with the world, not just our romantic ones. We can see each other, as well as ourselves, in a lover, a star, or a dream. We identify with the world in a very real sense, and by doing so real power is generated. We become more fluid, no longer fixed to our limited illusory personality. When we identify with the world, we become the world.
In Faery we are all familiar with the Iron Pentacle as a central meditational teaching tool of our Craft. It is sometimes taught that the point of Sex represents the attraction of forces that exist in a polarity, but what if this can also be understood to reflect resonance? With this in mind we might imagine the energy of the Sex point to be the underlying energy of existence, calling to itself through our awareness, and then merging with us. In my experience this difference is at once both subtle and distinct, allowing for a more deeply personal relationship with the energy. When used in conjunction with the model of the chakras, we may find it useful to focus on the qualities of the second, sometimes referred to as Svadhisthana (from the Hindu root svad, meaning ‘to sweeten’). When doing so we are reminded of that chakras’ elemental association with water, and its qualities of merging. When engaged in sexual activity we are, ideally, in an energetically open state and are inclined to blend energetically with our partner(s), if any. By focusing on this particular aspect, we can train ourselves to open more readily to sexual power specifically, and to magical power in general.
Another alternative might be in the contemplation of Ecstasy, to literally “stand outside ourselves”. Though not exclusively, this concept may be very appropriately approached through our sexuality. When consciously directed, energy generated through sexual activity can be a formidable ally in the deepening of perception and the gathering of power. Inspiration can be drawn from the sensations of our bodies, allowing us to express freely whatever arises in our Black Hearts, be it singing, dancing, trancing, or loving. By breaking free from the death grip of the Ego we are finally able to see beyond our normally limited awareness and can begin to touch on those powers which are of primal importance to the health and happiness of our soul(s).
To some, the adoption of alternate models might seem like a triviality, especially those that do not intend to exclusively replace the original. Why a new one if the old still works? I believe that we all can benefit from the interplay of diverse views. It is in the subtle differences of our own unique experiences that make these models personal and powerful when put into practice. As long as we understand that beyond the description lies reality, then we have begun to pierce the veil and perceive the truth, whatever that may be for each of us.
This article originally appeared in Witch Eye: A ‘Zine of Feri Uprising #2
These ideas have been expanded and are included in my book, The Satyr’s Kiss.
These ideas have been expanded and are included in my book, The Satyr’s Kiss.